Palm OS Device Reset Primer

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There are three basic resets available: the soft reset, no-notify reset (also called an application-bypass or warm reset), and the dreaded hard reset. Each has a purpose, and it is important to know when to use each one so that you don't use a nuke to kill a fly. I must recommend that you regularly perform a full backup of your PDA, either to the memory card or the desktop--preferably both. I use BackupBuddy to backup my entire PDA (including FlashRom and memory card) to the desktop, and BackupBuddy VFS 2.02 to backup to the memory stick.

Soft reset

This is accomplished simply by unscrewing the top of your stylus to access the small pin in the top. Push this pin into the tiny hole in the back of you PDA (the "reset button") and release it. Your screen will go blank for a couple of seconds, then the Palm OS screen will come up (w/o the back/front/side light if you have color), then the back/front/side light will come on (and the Sony screen if you have a CLIE), then the general preference screen. The length of time delay between the back/front/side light coming on for color devices depends on the number of applications loaded on the device. This will be explained below. All saved data will be preserved on the device. If you have hacks loaded, X-Master will ask if you want to restore your last set of hacks. If you suspect a hack caused the initial problem, then answer no and reenable the hacks one at a time until you find the problem. If you are using PiDirect II or a similar program, it will ask if you want to activate it as well.

A soft reset basically resets the memory structures in the handheld. This recovers from memory conflicts, corrupted system service chains (mainly due to malperforming hacks), memory leaks, and system lockups due to the dreaded "Fatal Exception" program errors. Upon receiving a fatal exception, a reset button will appear at the bottom of the screen. Tapping that button quickly will initiate a soft reset. If tapping the button doesn't work, then push the reset button on the back to the device as described above.

If you perform a soft reset, but your device locks right back up again (in other words, you are in a soft-reset-required loop), try the next level of reset:

No-notify (warm) reset

Perform a no-notify reset by holding the page up toggle while pressing the reset button, and don't release the page up toggle until you see the Palm OS screen come up. This does the same thing as a soft reset with one addition, or actually, one subraction. All your saved data is preserved.

The reason it takes a while to get the general preference screen after a soft reset is that the OS notifies every app on your device that a soft reset has occurred. That allows each program to reinitialize. There are two cases where you don't want that to happen. One is if you want to delete a system file or other file that's normally open in the OS and won't let you delete it as a result. Since that app won't be initialized, it won't be active after the reset and you can freely delete it. The second is if some app is crashing your system in an endless chain of soft resets. This reset will keep all apps inactive until you manually start them after the reset is complete. This way, you can work your way through the apps and see which one is causing the problem. It could be as simple as a corrupt preference database for an app. This takes some patience in troubleshooting, but always start with what you did last and work your way back through your last changes in reverse order.

There is a free utility called Reset Emulator by Daniel Seifert. After a no-notify reset, run ResetEmu and it will simulate the notification process to all your apps. You can run through the apps pretty quickly to find the problem program. Once you find the offender, you will have to do another no-notify reset to delete the offender, then a soft reset to get back to normal.

Sony's modifications to the Palm OS (320x320 hi res, etc.) are essentially add-ons. A no-notify reset on a Sony CLIE will disable hi res support, amongst other things. So don't panic if your hi res Sony looks suddenly low res after a warm reset. It will be back to normal after your next soft reset.

Here's a note I received from Annie using a Sony NX70 and NX80 which have both a Virtual Graffiti area and keyboards:

"I had a problem with my Clie and doing a warm reset. I went to ClieSource and found a link to your homepage in a thread. While your tutorial on "No-notify (warm) reset is very informative, I think you may want to add this one bit of information:

 "To do a warm reset: hold the Up button while resetting. This won't load anything so there will be no VG area. Hit Ctrl-H on the keyboard, go to Clie Files, then you can delete the offending files. Then do a regular reset."

If all else fails, then you need the dreaded...

Hard reset

WARNING: If you have a PalmOne Tungsten|T5, read the T5 section below before attempting a hard reset!

Accomplish a hard reset by holding the power button while pushing the reset button, and continue holding the power button until the initial Palm OS flash screen comes up. The device will then ask you if you really want to do a hard reset. If so, push page up. Pushing anything else will perform a soft reset. A hard reset will erase all your data and third-party applications from RAM. It returns your device RAM to factory conditions, just as if you pulled it from its sealed box. The initial welcome screen will come up and require you to calibrate the digitizer and check the system time and date. It will also restore things like the factory MIDI sounds, factory demos, etc. This is a drastic step, and should only be taken if nothing else worked to recover your device to your control.

Two things that a hard reset does not erase are your data in FlashROM if you use JackFlash or FlashPro, and your memory card. If your problem was a software one, then remove your memory card before hard resetting. That will prevent further problems if an app on the card caused the initial problems. Restore your system by HotSyncing, and if everything works OK, then put the card back in. Flash is an entire subject in and of itself. Both Flash programs have ways of recovering the data stored in Flash (that's one of their major benefits), and you need to follow the directions for your specific program. If you continue to have problems while trying to recover the Flash, then I'd recommend reformatting the Flash with your program and starting over.

Hard resets are very rarely required, and usually only as a result of some kind of hardware failure or gross system error. There are obscure software failures in low-level utilities that eat into the heart of the OS that can trigger or require a hard reset if they fail. Programs that format your unused FlashROM like JackFlash and FlashPro fall into that category. Still, I've messed with all this stuff at one time or another, and have only had to hard reset unexpectedly a couple of times in over seven years. One time was because I messed with the Flash in a way I shouldn't have, and it turned out that a no-notify reset would have worked had I known about it then. The other time was caused by a beta of a low-level system utility, something most people are too smart with which to mess.

In-Cradle Reset

Performing a soft reset using the reset pin while a rechargable Palm OS PDA is being charged, within a cradle or attached to a charging cable, resets the charging circuitry. This is helpful if your PDA won't turn on or charge properly. Just as with a soft reset, your data will survive this reset.

The PalmOne Tungsten|T5

The above resets all apply generally to the T5. If you do not have a system password set on your T5 ("Unassigned" under Password on the Palm Security screen), a normal hard reset will erase the T5's program memory but not the Internal Drive. That's the same as any other device. However, if you do have a system password set on a T5 ("-Assigned-" under Password on the Palm Security screen), a normal hard reset will return the T5 to full factory condition, i.e., erase all your apps and data including on the Internal Drive. All resets on the T5 take longer than earlier Palms because of the Flash RAM. However, this Zero Out Reset takes several minutes while the screen says "Reformatting in progress..." This is by far the easiest way to do a Zero Out Reset.

A problem should come to mind at this point. If you have a password set to secure your T5 and any errant app causes or requires a hard reset, you will lose all the data on your T5, including the Internal Drive. I don't know any way around this. Therefore, I recommend that you keep your backups on an SD card and not on the Internal Drive. As of this writing, no current backup application, including Palm's HotSync, backs up the T5 Internal Drive to your desktop. You should use the Drive Mode to backup the Internal Drive to your desktop and keep that backup current.

A more complicated way to perform a Zero Out Reset  on a T5 involves convoluted botton combinations which will challenge even the most dexterous users. Connect the T5 to its charger, then press and hold the following buttons in order: first Power, then Up, then Reset (the pin in the back of the T5), and lastly HotSync. You should be holding four bottons at this point. A HotSync will not start if this is done properly. Now release the Up, then Power, then Reset, then lastly HotSync in that order. At this point, the T5 screen will go blank, the LED will be off, and T5 will be unresponsive. If you get anything on the screen, the Zero Out Reset did not succeed. Now recover from this state with a soft reset. Your T5 will be just as it came out of the box.

When All Else Fails

I've receive the "white screen of death" on my T3 a number of times in the last year, always due to misbehaving apps. This manifests as a very pale screen that gradually fades to white. It is unmistakable once you see it. If not caught early in the process, and sometimes unavoidably, this results in a complete lock-up of the Palm from which no reset recovers, not even a hard reset. The only alternative is to remove power from the device. There are three ways to do this: take the battery out, let the PDA run the battery out, or disconnect the battery from the motherboard. Running the battery out can take anywhere from four to who-knows-how-many hours, but it involves only patience and no disassembly.

Disconnecting power from the PDA can be as simple as removing the AAA batteries in older devices or as involved as disassembling the PDA and physically disconnecting the power connector internally. I've done the latter several times on my T3 and it isn't all that difficult. Websites like Peter Strobel's have detailed instructions for this.


Well, that's Palm OS resets in a nutshell. Knowing the strengths and effects of each help your Palm OS experience remain a very positive one.